Saturday, June 30, 2018

“What We’re Seeing Here Is a Tipping Point”

Across the U.S. hundreds of thousands joined rallies today
to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies

Earlier today my housemates Tim and Colleen and I joined with around 7,000 others to participate in the Families Belong Together march and rally in downtown Minneapolis.

It was one of 700 demonstrations held today across the country to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies, one of which, until only recently, involved the forced separation of children from their parents who had illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. The nationwide demonstrations were organized before this particular policy was recently reversed. Organizers and those who marched now demand that the federal government reunite the families that were separated.

Today's event in Minneapolis, also known as the Free our Future march and day of action, was organized and/or supported by a number of social justice organizations, including Navigate MN, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).

Writes Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press:

In major cities and tiny towns, hundreds of thousands of marchers gathered Saturday across America, moved by accounts of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, in the latest act of mass resistance against President Donald Trump's immigration policies.

Protesters flooded more than 700 marches, from immigrant-friendly cities like New York and Los Angeles to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming. They gathered on the front lawn of a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, near a detention center where migrant children were being held in cages, and on a street corner near Trump's golf resort at Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president is spending the weekend.

Trump has backed away from family separations amid bipartisan and international uproar. His "zero tolerance policy" led officials to take more than 2,000 children from their parents as they tried to enter the country illegally, most of them fleeing violence, persecution or economic collapse in their home countries.

Those marching Saturday demanded the government quickly reunite the families that were already divided.

. . . In Washington, D.C., an estimated 30,000 marchers gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House in what was expected to be the largest protest of the day, stretching for hours under a searing sun. Firefighters at one point misted the crowd to help people cool off.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, sang a lullaby dedicated to parents unable to sing to their children. Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys read a letter written by a woman whose child had been taken away from her at the border.

"It's upsetting. Families being separated, children in cages," said Emilia Ramos, a cleaner in the district, fighting tears at the rally. "Seeing everyone together for this cause, it's emotional."

Around her, thousands waved signs: "I care," some read, referencing a jacket that first lady Melania Trump wore when traveling to visit child migrants. The back of her jacket said, "I really don't care, do U?" and it became a rallying cry for protesters Saturday.

Reporting on today's march in Minneapolis, Miguel Otárola and Liz Sawyer of the Star Tribune write:

At least 7,000 people marched across downtown Minneapolis in stifling heat Saturday afternoon to protest U.S. immigration policies that they called cruel and unnecessary.

The Families Belong Together protest, part of a nationwide day of demonstrations against the treatment of people along the U.S.-Mexican border, began outside the Minneapolis Convention Center and grew to pack at least six city blocks, with participants chanting in both English and Spanish.

"This is what needs to be happening all over the country," said Ben Ramirez, an activist with Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. "What we're seeing here is a tipping point."

The demonstration, one of hundreds across the country, was organized nearly two weeks ago in response to a Trump administration policy that separated and detained families found illegally crossing the southern border. The policy was later reversed and the federal government now plans to keep families detained together indefinitely while they await decisions on their cases, according to a new court filing.

For the protesters — many dressed in shorts and some carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun — the policy reversal was not enough. They demanded that the government reunite separated families. Chants of "Abolish ICE" (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) rang from a contingent of marchers in the street.

. . . Organizers also used the opportunity to denounce a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week that upheld Trump's travel ban, which affects several mostly Muslim nations.

"We today are on the clock, the people of the nation are on the clock, to reclaim America for all people," said Jaylani Hussein of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who was among the speakers.

Scores of the demonstrators were educators in town for a National Education Association conference at the convention center. Association President Lily Eskelsen García said the trauma inflicted on children torn from their parents would not soon heal.

"It took a village to separate these children from their families," García said. "We will be the village to save them."

Right: With friends Jackie and Everlyn. I'm wearing my QURA (Queers United for Radical Action) cap.

The (long defunct) QURA was a group I founded back in 2001. Its members (and, truth be told, there were never more that a dozen or so of us) described ourselves as a "network of LGBT activists dedicated to educating ourselves and the wider LGBT community on the threats to democracy, human life, and the environment posed by the nexus of corporate globalization, militarism, and environmental degradation." We also sought to organize and participate in educational and non-violent direct action events in order to facilitate positive and radical social and economic change, and to facilitate and share a uniquely queer spirit of resistance to all forms of oppression. In 2002, one of the events we co-sponsored examined the connections between corporate power, racism, and public policy-making.

For more about QURA, click here.

NEXT: A Prayer for Asylum Seekers
Being Tear-Gassed at the Border

Related Off-site Links:
Border Outrage in the Streets – Ellen Knickmeyer (Associated Press via Star Tribune, July 1, 2018).
Thousands March in Minneapolis to Protest Federal Immigration Policies – Nina Moini (MPR News, June 30, 2018).
Hundreds of Thousands Nationwide Join Rallies to Protest Trump's Immigration Policies – Andrea Castillo and Rosanna Xia (, June 30, 2018).
"Stop Pretending Your Racism Is Patriotism": Best Protest Signs From the Families Belong Together Marches – Bob Brigham (Raw Story via New Civil Rights Movement, June 30, 2018).
Summer of Rage – Rebecca Traister (The Cut, June 29, 2018).
The Violence Central American Migrants Are Fleeing Was Stoked by the U.S. – Cole Kazdin (Vice, June 27, 2018).

UPDATES: Abolishing ICE Isn’t Radical – It’s Rational – Fizz Perkal (Common Dreams, July 4, 2018).
Claims That ICE Agents Were "Just Following Orders" Won't Save Them From Liability for Children's Suffering, Legal Scholars Warn – Julia Conley (Common Dreams, July 11, 2018).
Kharma, Interconnectedness, and the Immigrant Crisis – Marjorie Orellana (Common Dreams, July 12, 2018).
Over 500 Migrant Kids Are Still Separated from Their Parents Weeks After Court Deadline – Sarah Ruiz-Grossman (The Huffington Post, August 23, 2018).
The Continuing Tragedy of the Separated Children – The Editorial Board (The New York Times, August 30, 2018).
In Mountains of Guatemala, Searching for Parents Deported from U.S. Without Their Children – Cindy Carcamo (The Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Opposing the Trump Administration's Inhumane Treatment of Immigrant Families
Jeremy Scahill on the Historical Context of the Trump Administration's "Pathologically Sick" Anti-Immigrant Agenda
Something to Think About – June 14, 2018
On International Human Rights Day, Saying "No" to Donald Trump and His Fascist Agenda
Quote of the Day – March 12, 2018
2000+ Take to the Streets of Minneapolis to Express Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees
Trump's America: Normalized White Supremacy and a Rising Tide of Racist Violence

Opening image: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune.
Closing image: Andrea Cecconi via Facebook.
All other images: Michael J. Bayly.

Stephanie Beatriz on the Truth of Being Bi

The Wild Reed's 2018 Queer Appreciation series continues with an excerpt from actress Stephanie Beatriz's recent GQ article in which she shares her experience of being bisexual.

I’m bi, and I'm getting married this fall. I’m excited, nervous, terrified, and so fucking happy. I’m choosing to get married because this particular person brings out the best in me. This person happens to be a man. I’m still bi.

To be bi is a continual series of coming-out moments – first to yourself, maybe as you leaf through old magazines and stare at a picture of Rita Moreno’s legs and come to terms with badly wanting to touch them (this is me). Maybe next it’s to your sister, who warns you in no uncertain terms not to tell your parents until you're serious about a girl because they will flip the fuck out (this is . . . also me). Then maybe you come out to your college friends, who will ask jokingly if you are gay or straight, this and every weekend (you guessed it: me). Maybe you then muster up the intense courage it takes to come out to your parents, who calmly ignore it. And then you’ll brace yourself and come out again and again and again to every person you’ll ever date. When does it end? When do you get to stop telling people you're bi? When do people start to grasp that this is your truth? When do you get to slide easily through life with everyone assuming your sexuality correctly? When do you start seeing yourself reflected positively in all (hey, even any?) of the media you consume?

You’ve guessed the answer, haven't you?

Bisexuality often needs an explanation. It isn’t something you can often “read” on a person, and because of that bi people sometimes feel like an invisible part of the LGBTQIA community. People’s sexuality is often defined by who we’re partnered with at any given moment, which can be a frustrating limitation for me. I’ve had countless tiny “coming out” moments in my life, often simply to explain to someone else that they have misjudged my sexuality based on who they saw me dating. Now I have a small platform of visibility, because I’m on a fun and (if I do say so myself) damn good television show. I’ve chosen to use that platform to speak openly about my bi-ness, because of other people who may feel invisible and unsure of whether or not to come out as bisexual.

A lot of stuff rolls around in your head when you’re wondering about whether or not you should come out as bi: If I pass as straight, why should I have that possibly uncomfortable and maybe dangerous “I’m bi” talk with my family, friends, community? If I’m in a same-sex relationship, shouldn't I “stay gay” and not upset the status quo? How much detail should I give people about myself and my sexuality? (Because, to be honest, sexuality is an intimate thing that I’m still in the process of discovering daily – that's the nature of all of our sexualities.)

Here’s the thing about sexual drive that some people like to deny: It’s around even after you commit to one partner. You may still want to fantasize about people, want to kiss them, to fuck them. Or maybe you do none of the above, but the kinds of people you were and are attracted to are still the kinds of people you were and are attracted to. I know I’m bi because I’ve stared at the shine from a girl’s hair much longer than you would if you were just admiring it because you wanted to know what conditioner she uses. I know I’m bi because in high school, I once stalked a very adorable blond boy so much I knew exactly when he would be at the water fountain between 3rd and 4th period classes and used it as an opportunity to get close enough to check out his JNCO-covered butt while he leaned over to drink.

. . . Speaking from personal experience, it feels so fucking good to be out. It’s still scary sometimes – I feel like an outsider so often. But those moments of discomfort are worth it, because living authentically gives me so much joy and feels so honest and good. In October, I will marry a heterosexual man. We’ll make vows that I will take very seriously – till death do us part. But I’ll be bi till the day I die, baby, and I vow to myself to always sing that truth.

– Stephanie Beatriz
Excerpted from "Stephanie Beatriz Is Bi and Proud as Hell"
June 21, 2018

NEXT: Queer Native Americans,
Colonialism, and the Fourth of July

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Bisexual: "Living Consciously and Continually in the Place Where the Twain Meet"
Bi God, Somebody Listen
John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday: "A Genuinely Radical Film"
Alexander's Great Love
"This Light Breeze That Loves Me"

Image: Elizabeth Weinberg/GQ.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Carl Anderson

So shelter me
In all your loving ways
Help me forget about
All those painful nights and days

– From "If Not for Love"

For "music night" this evening at The Wild Reed I share "If Not for Love" by singer and actor Carl Anderson (1945-2004). Written by David Foster and Linda Thompson, this particular track is from Carl's 1992 album Fantasy Hotel.

I dare say that for most people, Carl is best remembered for playing Judas in the Broadway and film versions of Jesus Christ Superstar. Beyond this memorable role, however, Carl had a long and prolific (if not always commercially-renowned) career in music. Among discerning music lovers he remains today, fourteen years after his death at age 58, a revered vocalist, one who artfully blended jazz, soul, pop, and R&B influences into his own unique and unforgettable style.

Over the past few months I've been collecting Carl's music on CD and/or vinyl. As I continue to collect and experience Carl's recordings, I've realized he's become my favorite male vocalist. There's just something about his voice that does it for me. In addition, from everything I've read about him, Carl Anderson embodied a very kind and generous soul.

I plan on writing more about Carl and his career in a future post. For now, though, here's one of the many stand-out tracks from Fantasy Hotel, which is probably my favorite of Carl's nine albums. Enjoy!

At the following is noted about this track:

“If Not For Love” was a treasure first recorded in 1991 by David Foster and Warren Wiebe for the soundtrack of One Good Cop, starring Michael Keaton and Rene Russo. The beauty of its melody attracted producer Andre Fisher who, one year later, was producing the new album, Fantasy Hotel, by talented and versatile r&b/jazz singer Carl Anderson. Fisher used Foster’s perfectly smooth and refined arrangement and invited him to guest on the electric piano. He enlisted keyboardist Brad Cole who performed the jazzy piano licks. To complete the ensemble he recruited Neil Stubenhaus, Michael Thompson, Rick Marotta and Rev. Dave Boruff, who plays the hot sax solos exactly like he did on Foster’s original take. Anderson beautifully sings the lyrics with power, class and a note of melancholy. This is truly a magnificent song [and] Fantasy Hotel has several other good tunes, including a cover of Kenny Loggins’ sexy ballad “Love Will Follow” and “All I Wanna Do,” both produced by Russ Freeman, the leader of the fusion group The Rippingtones.

For more of Carl Anderson at The Wild Reed, see:
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)

Related Off-site Links:
Carl Anderson – Jazz Legend: The Official Website
Carl Anderson Memorial Page
Carl Anderson at – Ron Wynn (
Carl Anderson, Superstar's Judas on Stage and Screen, Dead at 58 – Kenneth Jones (Playbill, February 24, 2004).
Obituary: Carl Anderson, 58; Actor Played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar – Elaine Woo (Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2004).
Obituary: Carl Anderson, 58, Judas in Rock Opera – Reuters via The New York Times (February 27, 2004).
Carl Anderson Brought Judas to Life – Hank Stuever (Washington Post via Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2004).

Previously featured artists at The Wild Reed:
Dusty Springfield | David Bowie | Kate Bush | Maxwell | Buffy Sainte-Marie | Prince | Frank Ocean | Maria Callas | Loreena McKennitt | Rosanne Cash | Petula Clark | Wendy Matthews | Darren Hayes | Jenny Morris | Gil Scott-Heron | Shirley Bassey | Rufus Wainwright | Kiki Dee | Suede | Marianne Faithfull | Dionne Warwick | Sam Sparro | Wanda Jackson | Engelbert Humperdinck | Pink Floyd | Carl Anderson | The Church | Enrique Iglesias | Yvonne Elliman | Lenny Kravitz | Helen Reddy | Stephen Gately | Judith Durham | Nat King Cole | Emmylou Harris | Bobbie Gentry | Russell Elliot | BØRNS | Hozier | Enigma | Moby (featuring the Banks Brothers) | Cat Stevens | Chrissy Amphlett | Jon Stevens | Nada Surf | Tom Goss (featuring Matt Alber) | Autoheart | Scissor Sisters | Mavis Staples | Claude Chalhoub | Cass Elliot | Duffy | The Cruel Sea | Wall of Voodoo | Loretta Lynn and Jack White | Foo Fighters | 1927 | Kate Ceberano | Tee Set | Joan Baez | Wet, Wet, Wet | Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy | Fleetwood Mac | Jane Clifton | Australian Crawl | Pet Shop Boys | Marty Rhone | Josef Salvat | Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri | Aquilo | The Breeders | Tony Enos | Tupac Shakur | Nakhane Touré | Al Green | Donald Glover/Childish Gambino | Josh Garrels

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Quote of the Day

It is fitting that the earthquake victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over one of the most powerful Democrats in the country came sandwiched between two catastrophic US supreme court decisions. The court, shifting rightward with Donald Trump’s Neil Gorsuch, defended a travel ban on people from Muslim-majority nations and chose to devastate labor unions with its decision on Wednesday.

Many voters, particularly young people, understand the time for incrementalism and moderation is long over, and ended for good when a race-baiter who empowers white supremacists and oligarchs stormed into the White House.

It ended with the kids in cages, the attacks on immigrants and all people of color.

Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former Bernie Sanders organizer, crushed Joe Crowley, the number four-ranked Democrat in the House, on Tuesday night. Crowley was widely viewed as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader.

Not only was Crowley a Washington power broker, but he was one of the most influential Democrats in New York state, controlling the Democratic party in his home borough of Queens and directing much of the internal Democratic politics of New York City. Other than Ocasio-Cortez, almost no Democrat would dare rebuke Crowley publicly.

In retrospect, Crowley as a future speaker was a laughable proposition. Ocasio-Cortez represents the future of the Democratic party. When she breezes to victory over token Republican opposition in November, she will be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She is a Latina in a majority minority district that Crowley, who is white and raises his family in Virginia, never truly represented.

Just as important, Ocasio-Cortez is an unabashed leftist, supported by the Democratic Socialists of America and numerous progressive organizations. She ran on a platform of Medicare for All, abolishing ICE and a federal jobs guarantee. She was unafraid of calling out corporatism and capitalism.

– Ross Barkan
Excerpted from "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Represents the Future of the Democratic Party
The Guardian
June 27, 2018

Related Off-site Links:
Democrats See Major Upset as Socialist Beats Top-ranking U.S. Congressman – Ben Jacobs and Lauren Gambino (The Guardian, June 27, 2018).
A Top House Democrat Lost His Primary — to a Socialist – Kay Steiger (Vox, June 27, 2018).
A 28-year-old Democratic Socialist Just Ousted a Powerful, 10-term Congressman in New York – Gregory Krieg (CNN, June 27, 2018).
"Seismic Political Upset": Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a Landslide Over Wall Street Favorite Joe Crowley – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, June 27, 2018).
How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Pulled Off the Year’s Biggest Political Upset – Tim Murphy (Mother Jones, June 27, 2018).
Lobbyists and Business-Friendly Pundits Mourn Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory – Lee Fang (The Intercept, June 27, 2018).
What Ocasio-Cortez Wants for America After Beating Joe Crowley – Jeff Stein (The Washington Post, June 27, 2018).

UPDATES: "It's Not Just One District": Ocasio-Cortez Pushes Back Against Nancy Pelosi's Dismissal of Progressive Wave – Julia Conley (Common Dreams, June 28, 2018).
Why Young Democrats Are So Open to Socialism – Isaac Chotiner (Slate, June 28, 2018).
After Joe Crowley Defeat, Anti-War Progressive Barbara Lee Considers Bid for House Democratic Chair – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, June 28, 2018).
Here's the Difference Between a "Socialist" and a "Democratic Socialist" – John Haltiwanger (Business Insider, June 28, 2018).
Ocasio-Cortez Responds to Dem Senator Who Said Policies "Too Far to the Left" Don't Win in Midwest – Morgan Gstalter (The Hill, July 1, 2018).
Progressive Insurgents are Propelling Democrats Into the Future – Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Washington Post, July 10, 2018).
Majority of Democrats Want Candidates to Be More Like Bernie Sanders, Poll Finds – Tim Marcin (Newsweek, July 11, 2018).
Is Bernie Sanders' Revolution Finally Taking Hold in America? – Chris Riotta (The Independent, July 11, 2018).
Democratic Socialism's Time Has Come Around – E.J. Dionne Jr. (The Washington Post, July 18, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Progressive Perspectives on Jeremy Corbyn's Achievement in the UK Election
Quote of the Day – June 8, 2017
Hope, History and Bernie Sanders
Carrying It On
Quote of the Day – August 17, 2011
A Socialist Response to the Financial Crisis
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Liberating Paris

Exploring the meaning of liberation in
Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning

The Wild Reed's 2018 Queer Appreciation series continues with a piece I wrote in 2002 when studying film and theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. This paper focuses on the 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning which, as Caitlin Breedlove recently noted, "[gave] the world its first peek into the exclusive 'ball' culture and [gave] drag queens, trans men and women, femmes, and gay individuals a spotlight unlike any they’d had before."

Paris Is Burning has been in the (entertainment) news recently with the release of writer and director Ryan Murphy's FX drag ball series Pose. According to Noel Murray of The Verge, the premiere of Pose is "the perfect time to revisit the landmark documentary that captured the scene that started it all." As you'll see, my piece on Paris Is Burning takes a more critical look at the scene it documents.


My interest in writing about Jennie Livingston's documentary film, Paris is Burning, revolves upon five interrelated questions:

• How do the majority of ball participants understand "liberation"?

• How and why is this understanding problematic?

• Does the film lift up a dissenting voice?

• What is a feminist/queer theological understanding of liberation?

• How could such an understanding translate within the ball scene?

For many of those interviewed by Livingston, the drag ball circuit, or scene, offers a sense of belonging and community. Because of their "otherness" in terms of race, gender-identification, and/or sexual orientation, these individuals are marginalized by society. Yet at the balls they feel free to express themselves. As black men, such expression can potentially be of challenge to the status quo: "For black males to take appearing in drag seriously, be they gay or straight, is to oppose a heterosexist representation of black manhood," notes author, feminist, and social activist bell hooks in "Is Paris Burning?", one of the essays in her 1992 book, Black Looks: Race and Representation. "Gender bending and blending on the part of black males has always been a critique of phallocentric masculinity in traditional black experience," says hooks.

Yet hooks also notes that the subversive power of black males in drag can be altered when such images are informed by "a radicalized fictional construction of the feminine that . . . makes the representation of whiteness as crucial to the experience of female impersonation as gender."

Right: Octavia St. Laurent in Paris is Burning (1990).

Evidence of this alteration and its implications abound in Paris Is Burning. "To be real is to look like your straight counterpart, cynically notes Dorian Corey, one of the black participants in the ball scene. Another notes that it is every minority's dream to "live and look and work as the white person." Still another states that if one has "captured the great white way of living and looking" than one is "a marvel." This "great white way" is epitomized for the ball circuit participants by '80s television shows like Dynasty and by white "supermodels." Accordingly, bell is adamant that what viewers are witnessing in Paris Is Burning is "not black men longing to impersonate or even to become like 'real' black women but their obsession with an idealized fetishized vision of femininity that is white."

Above: Pepper LaBeija in Paris Is Burning (1990).

Thus for many of those who participate in the balls, liberation from marginalization and disempowerment is achieved by becoming like a wealthy white female. Theologically, such an outlook implies liberation is about looking beyond one's own intrinsic, God-given worth and seeking to imitate another who, by their external appearance and circumstances, represents that which is "worthy and good." Furthermore, it implies that God gives this worthiness and goodness to some while denying it to others, and that the hallmarks of such worthiness and goodness are outward signs of wealth and power. Finally, it reduces our struggle for liberation to a personal, individual striving for economic betterment.

The achieving to be just like a wealthy white female is also problematic for hooks as she observes that "the longing to be in the position of the ruling-class woman . . . means there is also the desire to act in partnership with the ruling-class white male." Thus the oppressive power structure – the "brutal imperial ruling-class capitalist patriarchal whiteness" – which ensures that those who populate the ball circuit are disempowered and marginalized, remains unchallenged.

Above: Willi Ninja in Paris Is Burning (1990).

Indeed, the power structure is viewed as something to aspire to, as the exclusive club that one must strive to join. There is no (or little) sense of awareness of the systematic injustice and oppression at work, no desire to band collectively in order to expose, undermine, and transform this system into one that ensures that no one suffers marginalization and disempowerment. For hooks, the glow from Paris Is Burning does not come from the flames of a transforming fire but rather from a sacrificial altar to a false god. The film, she notes, portrays "the way in which colonized black people (in this case black gay brothers, some of whom were drag queens) worship at the throne of whiteness, even when such worship demands that we live in perpetual self-hate, steal, lie, go hungry, and even die in its pursuit."

Yet Paris Is Burning does lift up a critical and dissenting voice. In her discussion of the film, hooks notes that the elder black drag queen Dorian Corey (left) tells viewers that "the desire for stardom is an expression of the longing to realize the dream of autonomous stellar individualism." Corey laments that the ball scene is no longer about what you can create but about what you can acquire. He understands the way that consumer capitalism has undermined the subversive power of the drag balls, in much the same way, I would argue, that capitalism has undermined the subversive power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) movement in general. The end result is that conformity masquerades as liberation.

What, then, might a queer theological understanding of authentic liberation look like? I use the word queer as defined by feminist theologian Mary Hunt, as meaning "all whose sexual identities and practices fall beyond the parameters of 'hetero-patriarchy'." Hunt insists that queer theology with feminist input "signals a new way to bring together people from a broad spectrum of 'sexual outlaw' positions and invite their theological reflections."

Theologically, liberation, says Joyce Ann Mercer, is "the struggle for freedom from oppression as subjugated people become conscious of their situation and work to transform the conditions of their existence." It is important to note that such transformation includes personal and social change. within the Christian sphere, theologians of liberation emphasize "the biblical theme of God's action on behalf of enslaved, poor, and outcast persons as a central paradigm for faith." A key tenet of liberation theology, Mercer reminds us, is God's "preferential option for the poor," which is understood as "a call to solidarity with suffering persons, including those oppressed by unjust power relations structured around gender."

One of the reasons I am drawn to Paris Is Burning and, in particular, to bell hook's critique of it and, by extension, the wider realities of capitalism and patriarchy, is that I see hook's analysis similar to my own of the wider LGBTI community/movement. It was hook's viewing of Paris Is Burning that was instrumental in the articulation of her broader critique. For me, it was a "fashion spread" entitled "Burmese Dreams" in OUT Magazine's April 2000 edition. What made this particular marketing ploy especially repugnant was that OUT Magazine editors not only approved the putting of brown face paint on a Caucasian model but also showed this model holding various tools and implements used in Burma's slave labor camps. These camps, established by Burma's brutal military dictatorship and populated by an estimated six million men, women, and children, serve the interests not only of the corrupt military regime but also of Western corporations which profit from the military's trampling of human, labor, and environmental rights.

In an article I wrote for Lavender Magazine, I lamented that "the selling out to corporate rule is a betrayal of all that makes our journey as LGBTI people and as authentic human beings unique – heightened conscious insight, increased creativity and inclusivity, and greater compassion."

I also responded to this "sell-out" by establishing a network of LGBTI activists called Queers United for Radical Action (QURA). One of QURA's primary aims is to inform its members and the wider LGBTI community on the threats to democracy, human life, and the environment posed by corporate-led globalization, militarism, and environmental degradation. One way that we seek to do this is by establishing working connections with other justice, peace, labor, and environmental organizations within the Twin Cities. This "bridge-building" is itself a "radical action," as it helps facilitate an awareness of the root or source of the problems facing not just sexual minorities, but all who are oppressed by "brutal imperial ruling-class capitalist patriarchal whiteness," in the words of bell hooks. Although QURA is not a "religious" group, within my own life and work I understand the activity of bridge-building as part of God's liberating action in and through people.

How would God's liberating action look in the community depicted in Paris Is Burning? First, the competitive aspect of the balls would be absent. People would come together not to compete but to share, compare, learn, and celebrate. These qualities would be valued for what they are; they would not have to be legitimized by and through competitiveness. Everyone would be considered special and a "winner" by virtue of their unique gifts of self.

Free of competitiveness, there would be a return to creativity – a lifting up of the beauty and giftedness within as opposed to the outward seeking and acquisition of the perceived beauty and gifts of others. Such lifting up would be challenging as it would reach out to and empower others to similarly free themselves from imitating standards and norms set by entities bent on domination, control, and exploitation. Connections would be made with others who have suffered at the hands of this system, stories would be shared, and suffering and hardship utilized as vehicles to self-understanding, social solidarity, and radical action.

Imbued with and motivated by liberation grounded in the sacred dimension of creation, the drag queen ball circuit would serve not primarily as a refuge but as an empowering force for positive transformation – for both individuals and the wider society. Indeed, in time the wider society would become the drag queen ball circuit, just as it would become the home for other groups which had once felt compelled to construct ghetto-like subcultures. Fantasy, within this re-envisioned society would be employed for purposes of exploration, not as means of escape. Furthermore, the ever-expanding self that such fantasy would encourage to emerge would be cherished, respected, and honored; its journeying path would be celebrated and made way for by all.

– Michael Bayly
June 2002

Above: Performers featured in Jennie Livingston's
1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.
(Photo: The Kobal Collection)

NEXT: Stephanie Beatriz on the Truth of Being Bi

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Making the Connections . . . Then and Now
Reclaiming and Re-Queering Pride
A Lose/Lose Situation
Michelangelo Signorile on the Rebellious Purpose of Queer Pride

Related Off-site Links:
The Ballroom Revolution: Behind the Glitter and Glamour Is a Sad and Tortured History – Arkee Escalera (Esquire, May 31, 2018).
The Music and Meaning of Paris Is Burning – Julianne Escobedo Shepherd (NPR News, April 30, 2012).

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Celebrating the Summer Solstice

I am the fire that burns within your soul;
I am the holy light that fills and makes you whole.
I am the flame within that never dies;
I am the sun that will ever arise.

– Lisa Theil
Excerpted from "Litha (Summer Solstice Song)"

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, and at noon today I led a "prayer gathering" in the chapel of Abbott Northwestern Hospital (ANW) to celebrate the occasion. As regular readers of this blog would know, I'm currently three-quarters of the way through a year-long chaplain residency at ANW.

Entitled "See How We Shine!" this gathering was not only a celebration of summer but also the creation-centered wisdom that is found within the Pagan, Christian, Sufi, and Indigenous spiritual traditions. In this way it was very similar to the spring equinox celebration I facilitated in April as my residency leadership project.

In planning and facilitating today's interfaith celebration of summer, I shared the writings of Hafez, Joyce Rupp, Kahlil Gibran, Rabindranath Tagore, Starhawk, and Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon, along with the music of Lisa Thiel and Walela. I also shared my photography, with many of the images of summer incorporated into the event having been previously shared at The Wild Reed. (See, for example, here, here, and here.)

Above: At left with my friends (from left) Verna, Chandler, Logan, and Katie – June 21, 2018.

About 25 people participated in today's prayer gathering, the last event in ANW's chapel before it closes at the end of the month for a major renovation. Accordingly, we incorporated a leave-taking ritual into today's event. How exactly did we do this?

Well, when we processed outside to say our closing prayer, we carried with us a wall sculpture from the chapel (right). Entitled "In the Beginning," this work of art by sculptor Georgette Sosin symbolizes "the creative energy born of all beginnings, changes, and life cycles." Like the sun, which from today begins its slow ebbing into winter but which will return in full again next summer, Sosin's beautiful work of art will return to grace the interior of our new chapel.

Now on this longest day, light triumphs, and yet begins the decline into dark. The Sun King grown embraces the Queen of Summer in the love that is death because it is so complete that all dissolves into the single song of ecstasy that moves the worlds. So the Lord of Light dies to Himself, and sets sail across the dark seas of time, searching for the isle of light that is rebirth. We turn the Wheel and share his fate, for we have planted the seeds of our own changes, and to grow we must accept even the passing of the sun. . . . And yet we see with clear sight and know the mystery of the unbroken circle! The sun is not lost, it will rise again. the sun, too, is within us! See how we shine!

– Starhawk
Excerpted from The Spiral Dance
pp. 189-190

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
June, the "Time of Perfect Young Summer"
In Summer Light
Summer Blooms
Summer Boy
Shards of Summer
A Song of Summer
Welcoming the Return of Spring

Related Off-site Links:
Summer Solstice 2018: First Day of SummerThe Old Farmer's Almanac (June 21, 2018).
Welcoming the Summer SolsticeThe Leveret (June 20, 2016).
Names of the Summer Solstice -- Jason Mankey (Patheos, June 19, 2014).

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Quote of the Day

President Trump’s executive order merely replaces one inhumane act with another. In response to the overwhelming public outrage at his administration’s policy of tearing children away from their parents at the border, this administration thinks the appropriate response is to indefinitely detain families. This executive order is an affront to our moral values and runs afoul of our nation’s laws. When you have the most powerful nation on earth saying that it is acceptable to detain families indefinitely, you are sending a signal to countries around the world that this is how they can treat immigrants and minorities. I am hopeful that, as we have seen with other racist and xenophobic Trump policies, the courts will step in to rein in these unlawful actions.

Senator Bernie Sanders
via Facebook
June 20, 2018

Related Off-site Links:
Trump Reverses Course, Signs Order Ending Family Separations on Southern Border – John Wagner, Nick Miroff and Mike DeBonis (The Washington Post, June 20, 2018).
The Damage Is Done: Donald Trump Wants Credit for Ending a Crisis He Created – Jamelle Bouie (Slate, June 20, 2018).
Trump Ends Family Separations — by Locking Kids Up With Their Parents Instead – The Editorial Board (The Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2018).
Trump Administration Still Plans to Criminalize Families — Including Children – Richard Cohen (Southern Poverty Law Center, June 20, 2018).
Trump’s Order Says Immigrant Families Can Be Jailed Together, But What They Deserve Is Freedom – Sarah Lazare (In These Times, June 20, 2018).
Trump Order Ending Family Separation Likely Won’t Apply to Children Already Taken From Parents – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, June 20, 2018).
It’s All About the Midterms: Trump Took Those Children Hostage to Stoke His Base – Juan Cole (Truthdig, June 20, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Opposing the Trump Administration's Inhumane Treatment of Immigrant Families
Something to Think About – June 20, 2018
Jeremy Scahill on the Historical Context of the Trump Administration's "Pathologically Sick" Anti-Immigrant Agenda
Something to Think About – June 14, 2018
On International Human Rights Day, Saying "No" to Donald Trump and His Fascist Agenda
Quote of the Day – March 12, 2018
2000+ Take to the Streets of Minneapolis to Express Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees
Trump's America: Normalized White Supremacy and a Rising Tide of Racist Violence
Hope, History and Bernie Sanders

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Photographer unknown)